Krane Chemical's first-quarter earnings were much better than expected. In fact, they astounded the analysts, who had been expecting about $1.25 per share on the high end. When Krane reported $2.05 per share, the company and its amazing comeback attracted even more interest from financial publications.
All fourteen plants were running at full throttle. Prices had been cut to recapture market share. The sales force was working overtime to fill orders. Debt had been slashed. Most of the problems that had dogged the company throughout the preceding year were suddenly gone.
The stock had made a steady and impressive climb from single digits, and was trading around $24 when the earnings news hit. It jumped to $30. When last seen at that price, the stock was free-falling the day after the verdict in Hattiesburg.
The Trudeau Group now owned 80 percent of Krane, or around forty-eight million shares.
Since the rumors of bankruptcy just before the election back in November, Mr. Trudeau's net worth had increased by $800 million. And he was quite anxious to double that.
Before a final decision is handed down by the supreme court, the justices spend weeks reading one another's memos and preliminary opinions. They sometimes argue, privately.
They lobby for votes to support their positions. They lean on their clerks for useful gossip from down the hall. Occasionally, there are deadlocks that take months to resolve.
The last thing Justice Fisk read late Friday afternoon was McEl-wayne's dissent in the case of Jeannette Baker v. Krane Chemical Corporation.
It was widely assumed to be a dissent with three others concurring. The majority opinion was written by Justice Calligan. Romano was working on a concurring opinion, and there was a chance that Albritton would write a dissent of his own. Though the details were not complete, there was little doubt that the final decision would be a 5-4 reversal of the verdict.
Fisk read the dissent, scoffed at it, and decided to concur with Calligan first thing Monday morning. Then Justice Fisk changed clothes and became Coach Fisk. It was time for a game.
The Rockies opened their season with a weekend jamboree in the delta town of Russburg, an hour northwest of Jackson. They would play one game on Friday night, at least two on Saturday, and maybe one on Sunday. The games were only four innings long, and every player was encouraged to pitch and play different positions. There were no trophies and no championships-just a loosely competitive round-robin to start the season. Thirty teams signed up in the eleven- and twelve-year-old division, including two others from Brookhaven.
The Rockies' first opponent was a team from the small town of Rolling Fork. The night was cool, the air clear, the sports complex filled with players and parents and the excitement of five games going at once.
Doreen was in Brookhaven with Clarissa and Zeke, who had a game at nine on Saturday morning.
In the first inning, Josh played second base, and when he came to bat, his father was coaching at third. When he struck out on four pitches, his father yelled encouragement and reminded him that he could not hit the ball if he kept the bat on his shoulder. In the second inning, Josh went to the mound and promptly struck out the first two batters he faced. The third hitter was a stocky twelve-year-old, the catcher, batting in the seven hole. He yanked the first pitch foul but very hard.
"Keep it low and away," Ron yelled from the dugout.
The second pitch was not low and away. It was a fastball right down the middle of the plate, and the hitter ripped it hard. The ball shot off the barrel of the aluminum bat and left the plate much faster than it had arrived. For a split second, Josh was frozen, and by the time he began to react, the ball was in his face. He jerked just slightly as the ball hit him square in the right temple. The ball then careened over the shortstop and rolled into left field.
Josh's eyes were open when his father reached him. He was lying in a heap at the base of the mound, stunned and groaning.
"Say something, Josh," Ron said as he gently touched the wound.
"Where's the ball?" Josh asked.
"Don't worry about it. Can you see me all right?"
"I think so." Tears were leaking from his eyes, and he clenched his teeth to keep from crying. The skin had been scraped, and there was a little blood in his hair.
The swelling had already started.
"Get some ice," someone said.
Call the EMTs."
The other coaches and umpires hovered around. The kid who hit the line drive stood nearby, ready to cry himself.
"Don't close your eyes," Ron said.
"Okay, okay," Josh said, still breathing rapidly.
"Who plays third base for the Braves?"
"And center field?"
After a few minutes, Josh sat up and the fans applauded. Then he stood and walked with his father's help to the dugout, where he stretched out on the bench. Ron, his heart still hammering away, gently placed a bag of ice on the knot on Josh's temple. The game slowly picked up again.
A medic arrived and examined Josh, who seemed perfectly responsive. He could see, hear, remember details, and even mentioned returning to the game. The medic said no, as did Coach Fisk. "Maybe tomorrow," Ron said, but only to comfort his son. Ron had a knot of his own, stuck firmly in his throat, and he was just beginning to calm down. He planned to take him home after the game.
"He looks fine," the medic said. "But you might want to get him x-rayed."
"Now?" Ron asked.
"No rush, but I'd do it tonight."
By the end of the third inning, Josh was sitting up and joking with his teammates.
Ron returned to the third-base coach's box and was whispering to a runner when one of the Rockies yelled from the dugout, "Josh is throwing up!"
The umpires stopped the game again, and the coaches cleared the Rockies ' dugout.
Josh was dizzy, sweating profusely, and violently nauseous. The medic was nearby, and within minutes a stretcher arrived with two emergency medical technicians. Ron held his son's hand as they rolled him to the parking lot. "Don't close your eyes," Ron said over and over. And, "Talk to me, Josh."
"My head hurts, Dad."
"You're okay. Just don't close your eyes."
They lifted the stretcher into the ambulance, locked it down, and allowed Ron to squat beside his son. Five minutes later, they wheeled him into the emergency room entrance at Henry County General Hospital. Josh was alert and had not vomited since leaving the ballpark.
A three-car smashup had occurred an hour earlier, and the emergency room was in a frenzy. The first doctor to examine Josh ordered a CT scan and explained to Ron that he would not be allowed to go farther into the hospital. "I think he's fine," the doctor said, and Ron found a chair in the cluttered waiting room. He called Doreen and managed to get through that difficult conversation. Time virtually stopped as the minutes dragged on.
The Rockies ' head coach, Ron's former law partner, arrived in a rush and coaxed Ron outside. He had something to show him. From the backseat of his car he produced an aluminum bat. "This is it," he said gravely. It was a Screamer, a popular bat manufactured by Win Rite Sporting Goods, one of a dozen to be found in any ballpark in the country.
"Look at this," the coach said, rubbing the barrel where someone had tried to sand off part of the label. "It's a minus seven, outlawed years ago."
Minus seven referred to the differential between the weight and the length of the bat. It was twenty-nine inches long but weighed only twenty-two ounces, much easier to swing without yielding any of the force upon contact with the ball. Current rules prohibited a differential greater than four. The bat was at least five years old.
Ron gawked at it as if it were a smoking gun. "How'd you get it?"
"I checked it when the kid came to the plate again. I showed it to the ump, who threw it out and went after the coach. I went after him, too, but, to be honest, he didn't have a clue. He gave me the damned thing."
More of the Rockies ' parents arrived, then some of the players. They huddled around a bench near the emergency exit and waited. An hour passed before the doctor returned to brief Ron.
"CT scan's negative," the doctor said. "I think he's okay, just a mild concussion."
"Where do you live?"
"You can take him home, but he needs to be very still for the next few days. No sports of any kind. If he experiences dizziness, headaches, double vision, blurred vision, dilated pupils, ringing in his ears, bad taste in his mouth, moodiness, or drowsiness, then you get him to your local doctor."
Ron nodded and wanted to take notes.
'I'll put all this in a discharge report, along with the CT scan."
The doctor paused, looked at Ron a bit closer, then said, "What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a judge, supreme court."
The doctor smiled, offered a hand to shake. "I sent you a check last year. Thank you for what you're doing down there."
An hour later, ten minutes before midnight, they left Russburg. Josh sat in the front seat with an ice pack stuck to his head and listened to the Braves-Dodgers game on the radio. Ron glanced at him every ten seconds, ready to pounce on the first warning sign. There were none, until they entered the outskirts of Brookhaven and Josh said, "Dad, my head hurts a little."
"The nurse said a small headache is okay. But a bad one means trouble. On a scale of one to ten, where is it?"
"Okay, when it gets to five, I want to know."
Doreen was waiting at the door with a dozen questions. She read the discharge summary at the kitchen table while Ron and Josh ate a sandwich. After two bites, Josh said he was not hungry. He'd been starving when they left Russburg. He was suddenly irritable, but it was hours past his bedtime. When Doreen began her version of a physical exam, he barked at her and went to use the bathroom.
"What do you think?" Ron asked.
"He appears to be fine," she replied. "Just a little cranky and sleepy."
They had a huge fight over the sleeping arrangements. Josh was eleven years old and wasn't about to sleep with his mother. Ron explained to him, rather firmly, that on this particular night, and under these unusual circumstances, he would indeed go to sleep with his mother at his side. Ron would be napping in a chair next to the bed.
Under the steady gaze of both parents, he fell asleep quickly. Then Ron nodded off in the chair, and at some point around 3:30 a.m. Doreen finally closed her eyes.
She opened them an hour later when Josh screamed. He had vomited again, and his head was splitting. He was dizzy, incoherent, and crying and said everything looked blurry.
The family doctor was a close friend named Calvin Treet. Ron called him while Doreen ran next door to fetch a neighbor. In less than ten minutes, they were walking into the ER at the Brookhaven hospital. Ron was carrying Josh, and Doreen had the discharge papers and the CT scan. The ER physician did a quick exam, and everything was wrong-slow heart rate, unequal pupils, drowsiness. Dr. Treet arrived and took over while the ER physician examined the discharge summary.
"Who read the scan?" Treet asked.
"The doctor in Russburg," Ron said.
"About eight o'clock last night."
"Eight hours ago?"
"Something like that."
"It doesn't show much," he said. "Let's do a scan here."
The ER doctor and a nurse took Josh to an exam room. Treet said to the Fisks, "You need to wait out there. I'll be right back."
They sleepwalked to the ER waiting room, too numb and too terrified to say anything for a few moments. The room was empty but gave the impression of having survived a rough night-empty soda cans, newspapers on the floor, candy wrappers on the tables.
How many others had sat here in a daze waiting for the doctors to appear and deliver bad news?
They held hands and prayed for a long time, silently at first, then back and forth in short soft sentences, and when the praying was over, they felt some relief. Doreen called home, talked to the neighbor who was babysitting, and promised to call again when they knew something.
When Calvin Treet walked into the room, they knew things were not going well. He sat down and faced them. "Josh has a fracture of the skull, according to our CT scan. The scan you brought from Russburg is not very helpful because it belongs to another patient."
"What the hell!" Ron said.
"The doctor there looked at the wrong CT scan. The patient's name is barely readable at the bottom, but it ain't Josh Fisk."
"This can't be true," Doreen said.
"It is, but we'll worry about it later. Listen carefully; here's where we are. The ball hit Josh right here," he said, pointing to his right temple. "It's the thinnest part of the skull, known as the temporal bone. The crack is called a linear fracture, and it's about two inches long. Just inside the skull is a membrane that encases the brain, and feeding it is the middle meningeal artery. This artery goes through the bone, and when the bone was cracked, the artery was lacerated, causing blood to accumulate between the bone and the membrane. This compressed the brain. The blood clot, known as an epidural hematoma, grew and increased the pressure inside the skull.
The only treatment now is a craniotomy, which is a removal of the hematoma by opening the brain."
"Oh, my God," Doreen said and covered her eyes.
"Please listen," Treet went on. "We need to get him to Jackson, to the trauma unit at University Medical Center. I suggest we call their air ambulance and get him there in a helicopter."
The ER physician arrived in a hurry and said to Dr. Treet, "The patient is deteriorating.
You need to take a look."
As Dr. Treet started to walk away, Ron stood, grabbed his arm, and said, "Talk to me, Calvin. How serious is this?"
"It's very serious, Ron. It could be life threatening."
Josh was boarded onto the helicopter and whisked away. Doreen and Calvin Treet rode with him while Ron raced home, checked on Zeke and Clarissa, and threw a few necessities in an overnight bag. Then he sped north on Interstate 55, driving a hundred miles per hour and daring any cop to stop him. When he wasn't plea-bargaining with God, he was cursing the doctor in Russburg who studied the wrong CT scan. And occasionally, he turned around and glanced at the defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous product in the rear seat. He had never liked aluminum bats.
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